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Three rules for staffing your next agency pitch

Three rules for staffing your next agency pitch


The agency world, like many professional services, is full of small differences and limited brand awareness. Agencies are pitching new business often and the ability to win more than an agency’s “fair share” is critical to profitability. The ability to run a compelling pitch – especially in a competitive setting – is critical to a high win rate.

Given that we’ve run hundreds of agency reviews and are in “the meeting after the meeting” with client decision makers, we’ve learned what agencies should do and not do when staffing a pitch.

There are three key rules that help ensure you have a prospect centric group pitching the business.

Pitch team members need speaking roles.

If you don’t have a speaking role, you shouldn’t be in the room. Clients want to hear from the people that may work on their business. When an agency person sits through a pitch without speaking, clients often assume that the agency lacks confidence in that person. And it begs unnecessary, distracting questions like “why is that person in the room”?

Of course, these agency executives need to know their craft, understand the client’s business challenge and be able to professionally present. Agency leadership’s job is to invest in the talent and training needed so that their teams can effectively represent the agency.

The most senior agency executive generally should simply open and close the pitch.
Opening and closing is the most effective role for the most senior agency executive attending the pitch. This approach elevates the rest of the agency team and allows the talents and personalities of the team to shine. Clients want to see and hear the folks they will be working with on a daily basis talk about their business. They know that in most cases the most senior agency executive will play a different role, largely behind the scenes, like ensuring consistent staffing, quality control and staff development. A warm opening and a heartfelt close enables the agency executive sponsor to put a stake in the ground that the agency wants the business and that they personally will make sure their team has everything they need to succeed on behalf of the client. And that is what smart clients expect and want.
Everyone on the pitch team should be on the expected agency SOW.

Clients fear being “pitch teamed”. A pitch team is a senior, talented team that largely will not have hours in the agency’s SOW. The “pitch team” shows up and wows the prospect with their knowledge, expertise, charm and presentation skills. The presentation can be incredibly compelling. And it is also the essence of “bait and switch”.

Clients want to hear from the team that will work on the business. In the agency model it is hard to have confidence that an exec will really pay attention to your business if that exec is not on your SOW.

There is one exception – the senior agency leader that opens and closes and asks for the business doesn’t have to be in the expected SOW. Clients appreciate their special role and don’t expect to have that person in the SOW.

Steve Boehler, founder, and partner at Mercer Island Group has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Ulta Beauty, Microsoft, UScellular, Nintendo, Kaiser Permanente, Holland America Line, Stop & Shop, Qualcomm, Brooks Running, and numerous others. He founded MIG after serving as a division president in a Fortune 100 when he was only 32. Earlier in his career, Steve Boehler cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles, and Jif.